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Berg blasts WSI critics

By Janell Cole State Capitol Bureau BISMARCK -- Legislators have gone out of their way for more than a year to personally examine allegations that the state's workers' compensation agency ignores injured workers or lets their cases fall through t...

By Janell Cole

State Capitol Bureau

BISMARCK -- Legislators have gone out of their way for more than a year to personally examine allegations that the state's workers' compensation agency ignores injured workers or lets their cases fall through the cracks, House Majority Leader Rick Berg, R-Fargo, said Wednesday.

They found no examples, he said.

"I am really upset when people tear down an agency or the legislative process with accusations," he said, speaking of Workforce Safety and Insurance.

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Berg made the comments Wednesday while presiding over the interim Industry, Business and Labor Committee's final meeting.

"This is a nonissue because we've done our work," Berg said. "We've sorted through all the clutter, and we've gotten down to the issues," he said.

Berg summarized how the committee investigated various charges in order to separate fact from fiction, including looking into a case made famous in a Fargo television news report that, he said, presented as fact that one injured North Dakota worker allegedly must crawl into her house because of inaction on her case by WSI.

Several months ago, the committee invited injured workers who were unhappy with the outcome of their WSI cases to contact the Legislature's staff; 57 workers responded. The workers were asked to sign release forms that allowed the lawmakers to look at their files at WSI, and 17 did so. Individual legislators on the committee were assigned to do one-on-one interviews with those 17.

Most committee members made their reports at a meeting in September in the Capitol.

"I think it was conducted with utmost integrity by the committee," Berg said. "That process was one of utmost integrity."

Berg said the goal was to find out if workers' cases were handled according to law. He said that, contrary to charges by WSI critics about hundreds of cases mishandled, "there were not 200 cases totally ignored or North Dakota law not applied (correctly)."

Berg told his committee Wednesday: "Don't get sidetracked by people who won't sign releases."

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The committee has six Democrats and 11 Republicans.

Berg said the committee also asked injured workers' advocate Sebald Vetter of Bismarck to find people who would agree to have their cases investigated by legislators but got no response.

Cole writes for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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